Monday, July 07, 2008

July 14, 2008


A couple of years ago I created somewhat of a ruckus when I wrote an article on "Music in the Workplace." In it, I suggested there should be restrictions on using personal audio devices in the workplace. This created a bit of a stir particularly with I.T. personnel who staunchly defended the use of their iPods and MP3 players while programming. In the course of the ensuing dialog, I asked what companies, if any, had developed a formal corporate policy regarding the use of such devices. Remarkably, nobody seemed to have one, or if they did, they didn't want to come forward with it. However, recently I received one from an HR Administrator, perhaps the first of its kind. As this is considered somewhat of a trailblazing effort, the company asked to remain anonymous. All I can tell you is that they represent the North American unit of a global manufacturing company. Nonetheless, here is what they came up with:

"It is critical that employees working in the manufacturing areas remain focused on the tasks at hand and do not have any unnecessary distractions. It is for this reason that our policy on portable personal electronic devices such as cell phones, blackberries, computers, I-pods, CD players, MP3 players, radios, video games and pagers are prohibited in the manufacturing areas.

Company issued cell phones, computers, blackberries and pagers are acceptable as long as they do not create a hazard for the environment.

In non-production areas such as an office, the use of personal portable electronic devices are at the discretion of the manager.

Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action may be taken against any employee who does not adhere to this policy."

Frankly, I thought this was well written and quite practical; on the one hand, the company highlights the safety issues involved, and on the other they recognize it might be acceptable in other areas of the business where safety is not an issue. As for me, I might have taken it a step further and added some verbiage whereby such devices should be prohibited from customer service situations where it is necessary to pay attention to the customer. It might also make sense to ban such devices from meeting and training situations. Come to think of it, situations where these devices can be used in the workplace without having an adverse effect on business is becoming rare.

A recent BusinessWeek article (6/23/2008) reported that the amount of time the average U.S. worker loses to interruptions is 28%. This figure pretty much jives with the 70% effectiveness rate figure we have reported over the years (whereby in the average eight hour work day in an office setting, 5.6 hours are spent on direct work, and 2.4 hours are spent on interferences). Frankly, interferences are a natural part of office life (nobody can be 100% effective). But now with these personal electronic devices in play while employees are working, one has to wonder what effect it is having on worker concentration. Some people, particularly programmers (who tend to be somewhat introverted), thrive on such devices. However, these devices can be very distracting to other job functions requiring more extroverted personalities, such as Sales and Customer Service.

So, is a corporate policy on personal electronic devices really necessary? Frankly, I think it would be very irresponsible on management's part not to have such a policy. It must be remembered that the distraction resulting from these devices can impact three areas:

  1. Worker safety.
  2. Product/service defects and errors (workmanship).
  3. Worker productivity.

If it's between entertaining the workers and putting the company at risk, I think it's a no-brainer; the employees can wait until break time to enjoy such devices.

I would like to thank the individual for sharing the above policy with us. It may not be perfect but it's a good first start.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...

Effectiveness Rate = Direct ÷ (Direct + Indirect)


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I wore shorts to work the other day. Yea, I know, I'm the guy that says we should spruce up our image at work, but I did this to revolt against the rut I've gotten into in the morning (plus it was a Friday and I knew I wouldn't be running into anybody). Like a lot of guys, when I get up, I have a light breakfast, scan the newspaper, shave, shower, get dressed for the day, and drive to work. It is all very boring and repetitive and frankly, I think I finally blew a fuse.

It's easy to get into a rut regardless if you are a man or a woman. Whether you call it a rut or "writer's block," the danger is that you become stale and complacent and don't think clearly. This is when productivity in the office is threatened by laziness and lack of concentration. I think this is why the vacation was invented, so that a change of scenery will perhaps reinvigorate us. It pays to try and ride a different horse now and then.

Office managers should also be wary of workers falling into a rut. We may not be able to send them on an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba, but we can do other things, such as reorganizing the furniture, adding a touch of paint here and there, adjusting the lighting and sound, introducing some new office equipment, etc. In other words, something for the workers to take note of and react to.

In order to get your workers out of a rut, you have to do something that stimulates their five senses and intellect, perhaps a new type of assignment or job. If left unchecked, the tedium of a monotonous working environment will eventually drive away your employees, even the best of them.

I had an occasion to visit a Sony factory in Japan years ago. While there I observed an assembly line where the various workers built television sets. Each workstation had its own set of responsibilities for adding components and checking the work that preceded them on the line. However, on the hour, a whistle would blow, whereby the workers would back away from the workstations and perform some simple calisthenics to relieve the monotony. If that wasn't enough, each worker then rotated to the next workstation in the line where the work resumed. This made each worker cognizant of all of the steps needed to assemble the television set, as well as to promote the development of a quality product. I found this routine to be a simple yet effective approach for combating tedium.

You also find managers who promote end of week parties in the workplace or perhaps hold special training sessions to develop skills. But I tend to believe the best solutions are the simple ones, such as the Sony example. I don't normally recommend wearing shorts to work as a way to combat repetition, particularly if customers are going to be around. Instead, just pay a little more attention to the five senses of your workers. It can work miracles.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.

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I received the following e-mail regarding my article on "Socialistic Management":

A W.F. in Chicago, Illinois wrote:

"I'm not sure how new this management philosophy is, because it sounds mighty similar to life in IT startups over the last 20-30 years. What I think might be happening is that the number of folks who were used to operating in that fashion have finally reached a critical mass in positions of leadership. What worked in teams is now being applied to departments and companies, and not just in tech. Will it work at that larger scale? I don't know. I have seen and experienced lots of failures of hierarchic leadership. Personally, I'd be curious if this an aspect of generational workstyles."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Building Walls":

An I.L. in Kansas City, Missouri wrote...

"I'm a wall building hermit here. Now, get off my lawn." :)

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Wearing Ties":

An I.L. in Kansas City, Missouri wrote...

"I agree, meetings, as a rule, suck rocks. This is especially true when the Pointy Haired Boss is running the show."

An N.K. in Florida wrote:

"Loved the piece on ties. The other part of men wearing a tie is that it is a very attractive look on a man. The other thing about wearing a tie is the recent style of wearing a shirt with a sport coat, but with NO tie. Who ever thought of that idea?"

A J.F. in New York wrote:

"I love to see a man in a tie. To me, it is just more professional and makes a wonderful first impression. For someone to take the time to choose and tie a tie deserves some respect. I also have to admit I like bow ties as well." :-)

An L.S. in London, United Kingdom wrote...

"I have to wear a tie to work every day (every bloke does). I want to know when women are going to have to wear them as well. Equality in the work place and all that. :)

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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